15 Step

Album: In Rainbows (2007)


  • This beat-heavy opener to the In Rainbows album, which was featured prominently during Radiohead's 2006 tour, features a group of children from the Matrix Music School and Arts Centre in Oxford hand clapping and shouting "Yeah!"
  • "15 Step" was written in the rarely used 5/4 time signature. The most well-known example of a song written in a 5/4 meter is "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Another example of a Radiohead song written in an unusual time signature is "Morning Bell" from Amnesiac, which was written in 7/8. When performing, the band sometimes puts these songs together. In an interview with New York magazine, Ed O'Brien explained why they did so at a June 2006 concert at Madison Square Garden: "Putting '15 Step' and 'Morning Bell' together was deliberate. '15 Step' is in 5/4 and 'Morning Bell' is in 7/8. It's nice to have a bit of clapping, a bit of audience participation, if they can get the beat. In Spain, they love 'Morning Bell' - all the fast clapping is like flamenco music. But in the West, we're not very rhythm-savvy. Anything not in 4/4 is hard for a lot of people."
  • One suggestion for the meaning of the title is that the majority of popular songs are written in or 4/4 or less frequently 3/4, which would require a 12 or 16 step to stay in time when dancing. However, somebody dancing to a song with a 5/4 time signature could confidently stay in time with a 15 step dance. Another possibility is it refers to the 15 steps of the Courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem, on which the Levites stood and sang the 15 Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) during the offering of sacrifices.
  • In an interview in the August 2006 Mojo magazine, Thom Yorke gave the background to the recording of this song: "There's a track called '15 Steps' which was born out of a mad rhythm experiment that we did last year. At first we thought, "How the f--k can we pull this off live?" But then we were listening to 'F--k The Pain Away' by Peaches a lot and that indirectly inspired us to turn it into something different. It's got a bass line like Airbag and it's in 5/4 time with this 'clapping' groove throughout. I really like the lyrics. 'You used to be alright / What happened? / Et cetera et cetera / Friends forever! 15 steps -then a sheer drop.'"
  • Radiohead performed this song at the Grammy Awards in 2009, where In Rainbows won for Best Alternative Album - Radiohead's third win in that category. They were introduced at the ceremony by Gwyneth Paltrow, and were joined by the USC Marching Band. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France

Comments: 10

  • Jenifer from Tokyo, JapanOK...the lyrics on this site say that the line is "facts for whatever...15 steps, then a sheer drop". The above interview with Thom quotes him as saying "friends forever...15 steps, then a sheer drop", but I'm assuming that the interview was transcribed, not written. I think that it's "fast forward and up...15 steps, then a sheer drop". Discussion and critique?
  • Nick from Oxnard, CaTo avoid more confusion, Amnesiac's "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" is in 4/4 just as Maor said, and Kid A's "Morning Bell" would technically be notated in 10/8 because the eighth note stemming would be grouped 3,3,2,2 combining compound and simple times.
  • Emma from Adelaide, Australiathis was the last song on twilight credits followed by linkin park with 'leave out all the rest'
  • Kristin from Atlanta, GaThere is a brilliant mash up song featuring 15 Step and Take Five by Dave Brubeck. It's the best mash up I've heard yet!! Go on youtube, type "Five Step" or "Radiohead VS. Dave Brubeck", and listen!
  • Hermione from Los Angeles, CaThis song was in the ending credits for Twilight. I only knew that, because even though this song is not on the soundtrack, I had it on my iPod.
  • Bobby B from North West, United KingdomMaor and Clint got there first, but I was going to point out that Morning Bell is 5/4 on Kid A, and 4/4 on Amnesiac.

    Also, although the 15 beats in "15 Step" could be transcribed as a 5/4 signature, because of the complexity of the sampled drum parts, it would be much easier to transcribe/read if it was notated as 10/8.

    And to Luke, I appreciate your point - what difference does it really make? - but just since we're being nit-picky here, they couldn't play in 56/7 since the second number in a time signature has to be an even number, since it denotes the note's duration (whereas the first number denotes how many of each you'll find in a bar), so you could have 56/1, 56/2, 56/4, 56/8, 56/16, and you could possibly use 56/3, 56/6, 56/12, 56/24 etc if notating a section that switched to a triplet-feel from a more ordinary pattern, but you'd usually avoid doing so because it can be a nightmare to read a signature like that. Oh and the 56 part would be very unusual too (but not impossible), since it can be broken down into 28, 14 or most likely 7. So yeah, what you wrote (if we assume by the 7 you meant 8) was really 7/8.

    Sorry for the boring lecture, but it does matter if you're trying to play these things yourself - and it's a bit worrying when a song you've always played as 7/8 gets called 5/4 because there's a big difference.
  • Luke Taylor from Manchester, United KingdomNever mind what theyre in, they could be in 56/7 for all i care. They're great tunes!
  • Maor from Haifa, IsraelActually, Morning Bell from amnesiac is 44. Morning Bell from Kid A is 54...
    And 15 step is truly 54 And an excellent song from an awsome album
  • Clint from New Brunswick, NjTo avoid any confusion, Amnesiac's "Morning Bell" is not in 7|8. It is in 5|8, which is interchanged with 5|4 and 10|8 depending on the listener's perception. I'm thinking Ed O'Brien is being misquoted.
  • Frank Zappa from Baghdadthis song is clearly about sex
see more comments

Editor's Picks

He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss): A History Of Abuse PopSong Writing

Songs that seem to glorify violence against women are often misinterpreted - but not always.

Neal Smith - "I'm Eighteen"They're Playing My Song

With the band in danger of being dropped from their label, Alice Cooper drummer Neal Smith co-wrote the song that started their trek from horror show curiosity to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Ben Kowalewicz of Billy TalentSongwriter Interviews

The frontman for one of Canada's most well-known punk rock bands talks about his Eddie Vedder encounter, Billy Talent's new album, and the importance of rock and roll.

Jethro TullFact or Fiction

Stage urinals, flute devices, and the real Aqualung in this Fact or Fiction.

Evolution Of The Prince SymbolSong Writing

The evolution of the symbol that was Prince's name from 1993-2000.

Colin HaySongwriter Interviews

Established as a redoubtable singer-songwriter, the Men At Work frontman explains how religion, sobriety and Jack Nicholson play into his songwriting.